They blew it, but the fight’s not over

Media guru Jeff Jarvis, in his Buzzmachine blog, published the speech he would’ve given to the annual NAA conference in San Diego this week. In his speech, he would’ve told the nation’s newspaper publishers “You blew it.”

Jarvis chastises the publishers for neglecting the changing tide of readership, for not embracing technology fast enough, for letting Google, Craigslist and other aggregators to get the better of them, and for letting Associated Press continue to ruin their chances for survival. (In a later post, he calls for the elimination of AP to give newspapers rightful control over its local content).

As a result, Jarvis says, publishers are angry. But the readers should be angry at them for “the poor stewardship you have exercised over the press and its service to society.”

Strong words, and much of it rings true. But one thing Jarvis didn’t offer was a way out. In essence, his speech is saying “stick a fork in it … it’s done.” It makes me wonder if Jarvis needs to walk away and calm down a bit. Tim McGuire of the Cronkite School of Journalism has the same feelings.

The majority of publishers attending NAA realize they blew it (though some may still be in denial). And many are trying to figure out ways to bring back readership and revenue. Yes, charging for content is a bad idea now … but give them credit for at least trying to come up with something.

And, yes, the industry needs new innovators and idea men in positions of power. People who are willing to take chances. Sam Zell and his crew may not be the consummate news moguls, but at least the Tribune Co. is trying new and different approaches to content and delivery that many others are afraid to touch.

The newspaper industry is ailing, but by no means done. As long as news readership remains strong … which it does … providing relevant, quality content will remain a viable business.

The trick is to find a way to profit. And America has always found a way to do that.

* Building newspaper readership? Maybe the NAA should take a closer look at India, where newspapers are thriving right now.

It’s interesting that in India, where illiteracy is a problem, the goal is “to aspire to read a newspaper.” As I said before, the Newspaper in Education program missed its mark by being merely a circulation tool instead of a grassroots education program to teach school children to become newspaper readers.

Illiteracy may not be as big a problem here as in India, but newspaper illiteracy sure is. If newspapers can survive this generation, there’s still time to build on the next.

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